Saturday, December 23, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Amazing Peace

Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes

And lightening rattles the eaves of our houses.

Floodwaters await in our avenues.

Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche

Over unprotected villages.

The sky slips low and gray and threatening.

We question ourselves. What have we done to so affront nature?

We interrogate and worry God.

Are you there? Are you there, really?

Does the covenant you made with us still hold?

Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters,

Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope

And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air.

The world is encouraged to come away from rancor,

Come the way of friendship.

It is the Glad Season.

Thunder ebbs to silence and lightening sleeps quietly in the corner.

Floodwaters recede into memory.

Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us

As we make our way to higher ground.

Hope is born again in the faces of children.

It rides on the shoulders of our aged s they walk into their sunsets.

Hope spreads around the earth, brightening all things,

Even hate, which crouches breeding in dark corridors.

In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.

At first it is too soft. Then only half heard.

We listen carefully as it gathers strength.

We hear a sweetness.

The word is Peace.

It is loud now.

Louder than the explosion of bombs.

We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence.

It is what we have hungered for.

Not just the absence of war.

But true Peace.

A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.

Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.

We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.

We beckon this good season to wait awhile with us.

We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.


Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.

We, Jew and the Janist, the Catholic and the Confucian,

Implore you to stay awhile with us

So we may learn by your shimmering light

How to look beyond complexion and see community.

It is Chrsitmas time, a halting of hate time.

On this platform of peace, we can create a language

To translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.

At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ

Into the great religions of the world.

We jubilate the precious advent of trust.

We shout with glorious tongues the coming of hope.

All the earth’s tribes loosen their voices

To celebrate the promise of Peace.

We, Angels and Mortals, Believers and Nonbelievers,

Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.

Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves,

And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation:

Peace, My Brother.

Peace, My Sister.

Peace, My Soul.

By Maya Angelou

Random House, 2005

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Continued Cost of Homophobia

This morning news broke of yet another conservative pastor resigning his position after admissions of sexual relationships with other men. Channel Four News out of Denver released the story of Paul Barnes, the latest "outed" pastor to leave church leadership in recent days.

Barnes videotaped a message to his congregation in which he recalled his life-long struggle with his sexuality. "I have struggled with homosexuality since I was a 5-year-old boy," Barnes, 54, said in the videotaped message. "... I can't tell you the number of nights I have cried myself to sleep, begging God to take this away." For Barnes, these innate sexual desires for other men were contrary to his reading of the Bible which considers homosexuality an "abomination."

Following close on the heels of Ted Haggard's sex and drug scandal, this public outing is just one more example of the cost of homophobia in our Churches and in our society. Both Haggard and Barnes struggled with their sexuality, not because it was wrong, sinful or "abominable," but rather because their communities of faith convinced them that who they were at their core was flawed and unacceptable to the Church and to God. What violence to the souls of our children are we inflicting through this type of purported moral and religious righteousness?

It was not the sin of homosexuality that drove Haggard to adultery, drug addiction, and deceit. It was not homosexuality that made Barnes cry himself to sleep at night. It was the violence of the conservative Christian Church who taught these men to hate themselves that led to such heartbreak for all involved...for themselves, for their family and friends and for the congregations they led. This is the cost of homophobia and it affects us all.

In a recent edition of Sightings, the Martin Marty Center's e-newsletter, professor of church history at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Dr. Jon Pahl, wrote a piece entitled "Ted Haggard's 'Sin'"in which he explores this cost of homophobia in the context of Augustine's understanding of sin. Just as Augustine believed that "sin arises from a social nexus," he argues Haggard's "sin" was created by his context. It only became a transgression because his conservative Christian environment made it so. The palpable struggle we hear in both men's stories arose from the social and religious context that told them who they were was unacceptable. This was not God's curse, but the curse of an unjust religious community. Pahl writes, "If, say, gay sex were considered good within a committed, loving, and publicly recognized relationship, it would not pose a moral threat."

We must remember that these types of struggles over one's sexuality are not limited to adult men in positions of power. What about the countless gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth in their congregations? What messages must they be hearing as their pastors are publicly scapegoated and humiliated for just such a desire as they hold secret?

The social and religious shame surrounding non-heterosexual orientations creates an atmosphere of psycho-social oppression that leads to increased risk of suicide among gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning teens. A report by Gary Remafedi in the Journal of American Medical Association reviewed recent studies on suicidality in gay and lesbian youth and discovered that in all ten studies he reviewed researchers found a 20% to 42% rate of suicidality among teens who questioned their sexual orientation, a rate anywhere from 3 to 6 times higher than their heterosexual peers. While there are plenty of conservatives who would like to persuade us that this risk of suicide for gay teens is a myth, the American Psychological Association confirmed that the number one cause of death among teens who question their sexuality is in fact suicide.

The cost of homophobia will continue to weigh heavy on our society until we have the courage to stand for justice, support our children and proclaim the good news of God's Commonwealth in which gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and straight persons are known as God's beloved children, each and every one!

"Someday, maybe, there will exist a well-informed, well-considered, and yet fervent public conviction that the most deadly of all possible sins is the mutilation of a child's spirit." Erik Erikson

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Christians and the Pagans

This week on MassResistance, a blog dedicated to repealing same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, they highlighted the efforts of the "wacky pseudo-Christians...with their religious symbols and clerically dressed spiritual leaders," clergy at last month's Constitutional Convention.

This rhetorical tactic to label Christians who disagree with a fundamentalist approach to the faith as "pagans" or "wacky" or "pseudo-Christians" is nothing new. Yet, trolling religious blogs this week, it seems that there is a growing awareness on the part of conservatives about queer theology. Although gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have always been a part of the church in the pews, pulpits and ivory towers, their work is just now being dis-covered by the conservative leaders.

Dr. Peter Jones, explains the dangers of paganism (as found in the work of feminist and queer theologians) to our youth and nation in his article, "Christian Letters to a Pagan Planet." From his recent expereince atthe American Academy of Religion, he cites several examples of the rise of extremist ideology taking over congregations and college campuses including, "An 'evangelical feminist' [who] railed against the genocidal foundation of America and called for the deconstruction of 'normative heteropatriarchy.'"

Apparently, the dangers of "paganism" have infected our institutions for religious education, shaping and molding today's youth into radical apostates. For Jones the professors and scholars he heard at the AAR are evidence of the threat to our youth, a veritable "armada of brain-power deployed on our campuses to form the thinking of the rising generation."

Now, here is the funny thing, I don't think Dr. Jones is wrong. In fact, he is right on target. There is a growing body of research and a ever widening circle of scholars that understands the way in which the Christian tradition at times both oppresses those at the margins and offers possibilities of liberation. These scholars in liberation, feminist and queer theologies are not "anti-Christian" because they question Christianity, rather they are part of that very tradition they seek to engage, pushing at its limits, struggling with its history, re-shaping and re-molding it that it might be a living tradition once again. While for some that struggle may lead to a need to move beyond Christianity to becoming post-Christian, or Buddhist or yes, even, Pagan, there are others who remain challenging the tradition to live up to its own message.

I have hope for the future of the Church precisely becasue of the radical, new scholarship happening in our colleges and seminaries and congregations. Dr. Jones had it almost exactly right, after all these scholars are indeed an armada of brain-power deployed on our campuses to form the rising of the thinking generation!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Advent Begins

Today is the first day of Advent, the season of four weeks before Christmas that prepare us for the coming of God's Commonwealth of peace and justice. It is a season of eschatological hope in which we both proclaim and wait for the fulfillment of God's promise. This is a time of both the "not yet" and "already" of our faith in which we anxiously look forward to the coming Reign of peace while simultaneously announcing the initiation of that reality in the birth of Christ, God made flesh.

This year at Cambridge Welcoming Ministries our theme is "The Inconvenient Truth of the Commonwealth of God." As we await and celebrate God's promise of peace and justice, we will focus our liturgy and meditation on ecological justice as an integral part of that total vision. We understand that the peace which we proclaim is not just for humans, but for all of Creation. Echoed in the words of the prophets, we hear God's promise that the whole of the earth shall experience this joy. The lion shall lie down with the lamb, the mountains and the hills will break forth in praise and the trees shall rejoice. God's vision for a new world order includes all of Creation, all things that live and breathe and flourish upon the earth.

Each week we will frame our worship around each of the four elements: earth, fire, water and wind as we proclaim our Advent theme that the "truth that overturns expectations and the status quo will produce fear and confusion; but this truth is good news. Those who trust in it will find peace and joy and guidance concerning the ways of God which lead to abundant, but not easy, living."

Take time this season to meditate each day on the wonder and responsibility of being part of God's Creation. This may take form as silent prayer, reading and reflecting on scared texts, biblical or other, learning more about the environmental crisis, adopting an ecological spiritual discipline (click here for a list of actions you can take) or giving an offering to a local or national group that fosters environmental justice.

How strange and wonderful is our home, our earth,
With its swirling, vaporous atmosphere,
Its flowing and frozen climbing creatures,
The croaking things with wings that hang on rocks
And soar through fog, the furry grass, the scaly seas…
How utterly rich and wild…
Yet some among us have the nerve,
The insolence, the brass, the gall to whine
About the limitations of our earthbound fate
And yearn for some more perfect world beyond the sky.
We are none of us good enough
For the world we have.

- Edward Abbey

Friday, December 01, 2006

Keep the Promise

Today we honor World AIDS Day, an opportunity to unite globally in the struggle to fight HIV/AIDS. Since its inception in 1988, World AIDS Day has worked to raise awareness of the realities of the virus, which is spreading widely through sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe and East Africa at the same time as new drug cocktails have served to push back the disease in the affluent parts of what we used to call the "First World." With over 40 million individuals living with HIV/AIDS around the world, the epidemic has only worsened in the past 25 years.

While we realize one day is not enough, we join in the hope that this ongoing project of conscientization, awareness and activism will remind the world of the crisis we all face. HIV/AIDS is not a gay disease, an African disease, a poor disease nor an addict's disease. HIV/AIDS affects us all. Set aside a few moments today to remember, pray and take action.

O God,
In your compassion made known in Jesus,
Look with favor upon those
Who are in distress because of HIV/AIDS
To them give hope and patience,
And the ability to entrust themselves
To others and to you

Reveal the closeness of your presence
To those who suffer
And also to all family members and friends
Who care about them
And work to alleviate
Their discomfort and anxiety.

Receive this prayer through Christ
Who came among us that we might have life,
And have it abundantly. Amen.

Prayers adapted from Laurence H. Stookey, This Day.

Matthew 11: 28-30
Come to me
All you that are weary
And carrying heavy burdens,
And I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you,
And learn from me;
For I am gentle and humble in heart,
And you will find rest for your souls
For my yoke is easy
And my burden is light.

Action Opportunities: